Not quite like this… – photo by Cynthia Lawler

Today was one of those days where you can almost feel yourself learning. I had three jump lessons on three great horses this morning, and each one managed to teach me something different…

First off, I was on a young gelding. Our assignment for the day was a basic course with lots of changes of direction and smooth, flowy turns. Key messages? Pace, straightness and consistency. I started off my first round determined to nail the pace and not get caught with weak distances; this translated into me over riding all of the fences and sacrificing straightness. Not so good…

The fences went up and on my do-over I managed to find a happy medium, and suddenly the distances were there. Over my time here I’ve started to realize how much “the perfect spot” is nothing more than a reflection of your pace and your horse’s adjustability. Yet despite my brain knowing this, I manage to forget or mess it up on a regular basis… It seems to always take me a try or two to really get the flow going, and as my coach, Martin, says, “In the competition ring, you only get the first try.” I need this revelations to become more ingrained and instantaneous!

My second jump lesson was on a sensitive mare who I had only jumped once before. The focus of this lesson? Discipline in our figures. We worked over a triple combination of oxers with two strides between each, the objective being to jump it off the left lead, go right and jump it off the right lead. The angle of the turns and distance from the “center line” of the combination should be equal on either side. Well, I managed to axe this one the first time too, choosing an extremely tight track when a wider, smoother option was available. “The exercise is not about the jumps. It’s about being equal on either side. How can you pinpoint stiffness or rigidity in a certain direction if your analysis is not equal in both directions?

Everything is training, and I’m starting to appreciate just how much simple figures can tell us about our horses’ state of being. Stiff, supple, fresh, lazy? It all becomes painfully obvious when you accurately call upon a horses ability to go forward, halt, back up and go left and right. We start our work outs here with walk-halt transitions. Are they stiff? Pulling? Resistant? Once you’ve decided, you have your assignment for the day!

My last jump lesson of the day was a blast. I was aboard a more experienced gelding, who warmed up really well. Martin set up the same oxer triple combination as the last lesson, calling it the puissance classic. As the jumps got higher, the power and accuracy needed at the entry point increased, as well as the necessity of sitting tall between fences. What was a comfortable distance at 3′ became significantly tighter at closer to 4′, and I needed to be careful not to override the two strides, as is my wont! It was a blast though and my horse was excellent.

True to the forecast, shortly after finishing that ride the wind started picking up, and our last ride was hurried as we tried to beat the rain… Which came down in a torrent as we untacked. The downpours here certainly take some getting used to!